The British Medical Journal reported last week that Dutch legislators are considering the extension of their law of euthanasia to old people who are not fatally ill but merely tired of life and who therefore wish to shuffle off this mortal coil before their time. If the Devil should not have all the best tunes, why should the dying have all the best deaths? What have they done to deserve it? Let us be reasonable.
Initially, euthanasia was permitted in the Netherlands in the name of humanity and compassion. There are undoubtedly cases in which the most awful suffering is both unremitting and hopeless, leading in the near (but not quite near enough) future to death. With real religious faith such suffering can sometimes be accepted with equanimity, but not always even then. Besides, most people nowadays have no such faith; and therefore it seems only kind to bring forward death to avoid unnecessary and useless suffering.
There are several practical arguments against this view of the matter, of course, independent of the overarching belief that human life is sacred and it is no part of a doctor’s work actively to end it. Principal among these arguments is that of the slippery slope, in other words that one thing leads to another, and then to another, until the abyss is reached.
The argument of the slippery slope can be used to oppose any change whatever, for once you concede a, you have no firm ground from which to resist the concession of b, and so forth, until you reach absurdity or worse. Projection, however, is not prediction, nor is any slope a fatality, so that not every abyss is reached just because the first step toward it has been taken.
In this case, however, the Netherlands, or at any rate a group of people in the Netherlands, seems eager to slip down the euthanasian slope as quickly as possible. If they have their way, Amsterdam may yet have its suicide parlors as it has its coffee shops.